Postdoctoral Research Associate in Organic Geochemistry

Durham, United Kingdom
£34,304 - £36,385 p.a
12 May 2022
End of advertisement period
27 May 2022
Contract Type
Fixed Term
Full Time

Department of Geography

Grade 7: - £34,304 - £36,385
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 3 years
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 27-May-2022, 6:59:00 AM

Durham University

Durham University is one of the world's top universities with strengths across the Arts and Humanities, Sciences and Social Sciences. We are home to some of the most talented scholars and researchers from around the world who are tackling global issues and making a difference to people's lives.

The University sits in a beautiful historic city where it shares ownership of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with Durham Cathedral, the greatest Romanesque building in Western Europe. A collegiate University, Durham recruits outstanding students from across the world and offers an unmatched wider student experience.

Less than 3 hours north of London, and an hour and a half south of Edinburgh, County Durham is a region steeped in history and natural beauty. The Durham Dales, including the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are home to breathtaking scenery and attractions. Durham offers an excellent choice of city, suburban and rural residential locations. The University provides a range of benefits including pension and childcare benefits and the University’s Relocation Manager can assist with potential schooling requirements.

Durham University seeks to promote and maintain an inclusive and supportive environment for work and study that assists all members of our University community to reach their full potential. Diversity brings strength and we welcome applications from across the international, national and regional communities that we work with and serve.

The Department

Durham Geography is a vibrant community of over 60 academic staff (approximately equally divided between physical and human geography), a graduate school of around 100 research and 40 taught postgraduate students and more than 750 undergraduates. The Department is well supported with technical staff, including a cartography unit, and administrative staff.

The most recent QS rankings for Geography placed Durham 12th overall in the world. The department is recurrently ranked in the top handful of programmes in the UK by various league tables; in 2021, we were ranked 2nd in The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide and 6th in the Guardian University Guide. The Department was graded top for research power (quality weighted by volume) among UK geography departments in the most recent Research Excellence Framework exercise in 2014 and 3rd for iGPA (average score scaled by proportion of staff submitted). With 43% of work assessed as being in the highest category, it produced the largest number of world-leading (4*) publications in the country.

Our aim is to sustain and support hubs of leadership in geographical scholarship – broadly conceived. We will maintain our reputation for theoretical and conceptual innovation so that we are shaping and leading debates globally.

Our research is organised around our seven research clusters: Culture & Economy, Geographies of Life, Politics-State-Space, Urban Worlds, Sea level Ice & Climate, Catchments and Rivers, and Hazards and Surface Change.

Across these clusters we engage in debates that move beyond disciplinary boundaries and actively engage with collaborators within and beyond the discipline, from the sciences, social sciences and humanities, in University Research Institutes (such as the Institute for Hazard Risk and Resilience, the Durham Energy Institute and the Institute for Medical Humanities) and Centres (such as the Centre for Visual Arts and Cultures). Our staff collaborate with colleagues in many other disciplines in Durham, and with other geographers and interdisciplinary teams internationally.

The department fosters a lively research culture, supporting workshops and events which draw in international guests and mobilise the talents of our doctoral students. It provides financial support to develop collaborations and projects, be they for seeking funding or creating outputs. We are engaged with a wide variety of local, national and international bodies in both designing and implementing work addressing many of the global challenges. The pages at  https://www.dur.ac.uk/geography/research/ describe our research organisation, cluster themes, staff and a range of active projects.

The Role

The Department of Geography at Durham University seeks to appoint a full-time Post-Doctoral Research Associate in Organic Geochemistry and Palaeoclimate to join the inter-disciplinary research team led by Professor Erin McClymont as part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded project “Unlocking evidence for Antarctic sea-ice evolution from a novel biological archive”. The post is fixed term for 3 years.

The overall Leverhulme Trust-funded project aims to reconstruct histories of Antarctic sea-ice ecosystems and environments from the Last Glacial Maximum to present, using a combination of geochemical and reconstructions of snow petrel diet, modern snow petrel observations and diet sampling, genetic evidence for changes to snow petrel diet and populations, and modelling sea ice ecosystems for the past, present and future. A parallel project funded by the European Research Council includes additional snow petrel observation work and climate/sea ice modelling. Across the two projects, the team includes 4 PhD researchers, 3 PDRAs, and investigators at both Durham University (Geography, Biosciences) and the British Antarctic Survey.

The overall aim of this PDRA position will be to reconstruct changes to snow petrel diet and sea-ice conditions from accumulated deposits of regurgitated stomach oils generated by snow petrels where they nest above the Antarctic ice sheet (McClymont et al., 2022, Climate of the Past Discussions, https://doi.org/10.5194/cp-18-381-2022). These stomach oil deposits (sometimes referred to as ‘Antarctic mumiyo’) can be tens of thousands of years old, and have previously been radiocarbon dated as a way of reconstructing ice sheet thinning histories. In this project, the PDRA will focus on the application of stable isotope and organic geochemistry (biomarker) analysis to identify and reconstruct key prey species contributions to snow petrel diet, and reconstruct changes in the sea ice environment through time. The PDRA will focus on characterising a range of lipids and fatty acids, and will undertake both bulk and compound-specific isotope analysis. The PDRA may also apply XRF analysis of bulk elemental composition to support the organic geochemistry work, and there is the potential to develop new proxies through amino acid or pigment analysis.

Please see the full list of responsibilities and person specification given below.

The successful applicant will join the Leverhulme Trust and ERC project teams (12 members, https://antsie.webspace.durham.ac.uk) and large internationally recognised groups of researchers in the Department of Geography including the ‘Sea Level, Ice and Climate’ cluster (https://www.durham.ac.uk/departments/academic/geography/research/clusters/sea-level-ice-climate/)


  • To prepare and analyse samples using organic geochemistry and compound-specific stable isotope methods (extraction, separation, derivatisation; analysis by GC / GCMS / GCIRMS).
  • To prepare and analyse samples for bulk element geochemistry including trace metals, organic carbon contents and bulk stable isotopes (XRF scanning, discrete sample analysis by ICPMS and EA-IRMS).
  • To understand and convey material of a specialist or highly technical nature to the team or group of people through presentations and discussions that leads to the presentation of research papers in conferences and publications.
  • To prepare and deliver presentations on research outputs/activities to audiences which may include: research sponsors, academic and non-academic audiences.
  • To publish high quality outputs, including papers for submission to peer reviewed journals and papers for presentation at conferences and workshops under the direction of the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder.
  • To assist with the development of research objectives and proposals.
  • To work with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and other colleagues in the research group, as appropriate, to identify areas for research, develop new research methods and extend the research portfolio.
  • To deal with problems that may affect the achievement of research objectives and deadlines by discussing with the Principal Investigator or Grant-holder and offering creative or innovative solutions.
  • To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
  • To plan and manage own research activity, research resources in collaboration with others and contribute to the planning of research projects.
  • To deliver training in research techniques/approaches to peers, visitors and students as appropriate.
  • To be involved in student supervision, as appropriate, and assist with the assessment of the knowledge of students.
  • To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
  • To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
  • To engage in continuing professional development by participation in the undergraduate or postgraduate teaching programmes or by membership of departmental committees, etc. and by attending relevant training and development courses.

The post-holder is employed to work as part of a larger research project led by Prof. McClymont. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

This post is fixed term for a maximum of 36 months; the project is time-limited and will end on 30 September 2025.

Successful applicants will, ideally, be in post by 1st September 2022 or as soon as possible thereafter.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Erin McClymont (erin.mcclymont@durham.ac.uk). All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. https://www.dur.ac.uk/jobs/. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University.

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

  • An academic CV
  • A covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above;
  • Contact details of 3 academic/research referees. Referees will be contacted following the short-listing process

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include be based on the criteria outlined above.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment on date to be confirmed.

The Requirements


  1. Qualifications
    • A good first degree in physical geography, earth scicences, or a physical science.
    • A PhD (or be close to submission) in physical geography, earth sciences or a related subject.
  2. Experience
    • Experience in conducting high quality academic research.
    • Demonstrable ability to write material of a quality commensurate with publication in highly-ranked journals.
    • Demonstrable ability to present research papers at national/international conferences and communicate complex information to specialists and within the wider academic community. 
  3. Skills
    • Experience in the practical preparation and analysis of samples using organic geochemistry techniques, for reconstructing past diets and/or environments (e.g. by GC, GCMS).
    • Demonstrable ability to report, interrogate and interpret geochemical data sets
    • Demonstrable ability to work cooperatively as part of a team, including participating in research meetings.
    • Ability to work independently on own initiative and to strict deadlines.
    • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.


  1. Experience
    • Strong publication record in peer-reviewed journals, commensurate with stage of career.
    • A track record of presenting research at conferences, symposia, or meetings, commensurate with stage of career
  2. Skills
    • Experience in sample preparation and analysis for inorganic geochemical (e.g. trace metal) or stable isotope analysis.
    • Demonstrable ability to plan and manage independent research. 

DBS Requirement: Not Applicable.